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04.23.16

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Continues Its Battles for Patent Sanity in the United States

Posted in America, EFF, Patents at 8:40 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

By taking on the Lexmark case the EFF works towards printing/ink/toner rights in general

Epson

Summary: A look at some of the latest activity of the EFF in the area of patents, where there probably ought to be increased emphasis on the harms of software patents and need for elimination thereof

THE Electronic Frontier Foundation is a potential ally in the fight against software patents. We have written about its role in the battle for nearly a decade now (Novell paid the EFF almost one decade ago) and we continue to monitor its progress. Funded by Mark Cuban to do this kind of activism (Cuban, who reads Techrights, is notably against software patents), we believe that a lot of good can come out of what the EFF does.

The EFF’s Julie Samuels wrote 4 days ago that she’s still fighting “Against Stupid Patents” (not too useful to choose the word “stupid” for one who fights against software patents). “Despite the program’s modest but important success at weeding out some of the worst patents,” she wrote, “it’s under attack from those who oppose patent reform and apparently believe a 20-year government monopoly should not have to withstand any scrutiny. Specifically, representatives from certain industries (e.g., the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries) claim that IPRs are “patent death squads” and have been hard at work on Capitol Hill trying to roll back the program’s effectiveness by dulling its procedures.”

“The EFF basically gets involved in the Lexmark patent case (trying to drag in the Supreme Court) and is attracting/receiving supportive press coverage.”We wrote about the use of the term “patent death squads” in the past, e.g. in [1, 2, 3, 4]. They use other malicious-sounding terms to describe invalidation of bogus patents and they use euphemisms for their own abuses.

The EFF’s latest battle seems to be tackling a subject which we wrote about some weeks ago [EN | ES]. The EFF basically gets involved in the Lexmark patent case (trying to drag in the Supreme Court) and is attracting/receiving supportive press coverage. Public Knowledge wrote earlier this week: “Yesterday, Public Knowledge filed an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in the case Impression Products v. Lexmark International. The brief was joined by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the R Street Institute.

“The case relates to printer toner cartridges that are refilled and resold. Lexmark argues that the resale of printer cartridges violates its patent rights. Impression Products, who remanufactures cartridges, contends that its activities are legally permitted because Lexmark’s patent rights were exhausted at the time of sale of the cartridges to consumers. The amicus brief filed supports Impression’s view that consumer ownership rights should override Lexmark’s patent interests.”

“Cory Doctorow’s headline said “Printer ink wars may make private property the exclusive domain of corporations” and here is the EFF’s own humble statement (“EFF Asks Supreme Court to Overturn Dangerous Ruling Allowing Patent Owners to Undermine Ownership”).”This was also covered by WIPR, which wrote: “The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has urged the US Supreme Court to hear and overturn a “troubling decision” handed down by an appeals court that centres on patent exhaustion.”

Cory Doctorow’s headline said “Printer ink wars may make private property the exclusive domain of corporations” and here is the EFF’s own humble statement (“EFF Asks Supreme Court to Overturn Dangerous Ruling Allowing Patent Owners to Undermine Ownership”).

To quote the EFF: “The case is called Impression Products, Inc. v. Lexmark International, Inc. and it concerns the arcane but important question of patent exhaustion. This is patent law’s version of “first sale,” the doctrine in copyright law that says that once a consumer buys a copy of a work, she owns it and can do what she wants with that copy. Patent law is similar. Once a patent owner sells a product, it cannot later claim that that product’s use or sale is infringing.”

“We have been critical (at times) of the EFF’s approach, but all in all, what the EFF is doing is better than nothing at all.”At the same time the EFF fights for another cause (“Court Confirms EFF Can Stand Up for Public Access to Court Records”).

“Last month,” it explained, “EFF moved to intervene in a patent case in order to unseal records we believe have been improperly kept from the public. Yesterday, the court granted EFF’s motion to intervene, and in doing so, rejected a troubling argument being put forth by the patent owner.

“The case is Blue Spike v. Audible Magic. As we noted in our blog post last month, numerous documents, including at least three court opinions, have been completely withheld from the public. The sealed documents are highly substantive, and from what we can gather, would help the public better understand what, exactly, Blue Spike claims to have invented.”

We have been critical (at times) of the EFF’s approach, but all in all, what the EFF is doing is better than nothing at all. We just wish it did more to directly tackle software patents in the US, especially now that a lot of patent giants lobby the government (more on that later today).

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